Coal plants generate about 50% of US electricity and 80% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere each year through power production. China also relies heavily on coal for electricity production and has been hastily building new coal plants in the last five years. However, none are designed to capture CO2, the most prevalent greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
“There is no credible pathway towards stringent greenhouse-gas stabilisation targets without CO2-emission reductions from existing coal power plants,” says the MIT report. Carbon dioxide has been captured and put into the ground for years – but only in relatively small-scale projects.
According to the report, multiple technologies for carbon capture are being explored, but the US government still has not adequately supported carbon-capture research and is moving too slowly to develop large demonstration projects. Industry and the government, it noted, need to “dramatically expand” support for carbon-capture research and development – spending US$12 billion to US$15 billion in the decade ahead.
If such technology is shown to work in US power plants, says the study, it could move China to reduce greenhouse gases from its rapidly growing network of coal-burning plants. Together, the two countries account for 20% of the world’s CO2 from coal-burning power stations.
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